I first learned about the Mayon Volcano in grade school as an illustration on a reference book. I remember admiring its perfect cone shape, a trait that made the volcano famous. I never really thought I’d get to see it up close much less get to Bicol. But an opportunity came along in February 2010 when my former employer, the Presidential Security Group went to the region to perform security operations for the presidential engagement of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Just like my Vigan trip, I was asked by my former female boss to join them and I gladly did.
How to get there
The only plane I’ve ever experienced taking is a C130, a military transport aircraft. I’m not exactly sure why but I wasn’t at all nervous the first time I’d ridden one. It was a smooth travel, I enjoyed looking out of the window, unruffled that we were thousands of feet off the ground. That feeling of calm wasn’t replicated when we took the C130 flight to Bicol. It was an hour and a half travel but to me it felt like forever. The turbulence was strong, the engines were too loud, it was a lot like riding a roller coaster. I remember wondering whether we’d get to our destination in one piece. Plane crash is certainly not my idea of leaving this mortal coil.
Anyway it turned out that I worried for nothing. We touched down Legazpi Airport without so much as a scratch.
The story above showed how we got to the place which obviously not out public transport. So for those who are wondering how to get to Bicol you may visit this site.
Where to stay
When we reached Bicol I stayed with the officers and female soldiers at Albay Executive House while the enlisted men were billeted at Albay Astrodome. Anyway, I’ve included here the links for hotel accommodations for those of you who may be planning to visit the Bicol Region:
Places to see
You need not go any further to buy your friends and loved ones “pasalubong.” There ‘s a line of souvenir shops in Legazpi Airport that sell native bags, magnets, keychains, figurines, etc. The area also offers a nice view of Mayon Volcano perfect for picture taking.
There is a small hotel inside the airport called Legazpi Airport Hotel. Honestly I’m not really sure why anyone would want to stay there because first of all, it is the freaking airport which means the airplanes had been flying to and fro. I highly doubt anyone would be able to sleep with the sound of those flying giants in the background. But then again, maybe it is meant for those who are yet to figure out where they would stay in Bicol. They have a small café though and this I do recommend. It’s perfect for those who want to relax a bit and those who want something good to eat. Try their tapsilog, daingsilog, and hotsilog; they were good.
Vitton Beach Resort, Donsol
One of the places that President Arroyo visited in Bicol is the Vitton Beach Resort located in Donsol, Sorsogon. There she shared a sumptuous merienda with some members of the press.
Now this is the perfect place to go if you are after the unique experience of swimming with the whale sharks known locally as “butanding.” Indeed, Donsol is known as the whale capital in the world as it is the only place where you can find a big population of this humongous underwater specie. Pump boats lined up the shores, each one can be rented for Php 3,500, good for 6 people.
Unfortunately the PSG went there to secure the area not to go swimming so I didn’t have a chance to come face to face with the whale sharks. Needless to say I was totally disappointed, I mean it’s not like I could visit Donsol everyday. So if you happen to get to Donsol, you must never pass up an opportunity for a butanding sighting lest you’d feel sorry as I did. As my friend, Magdalena would attest (she is by the way the friendly bartender of Vitton Resort), seeing a whale shark in the flesh is an experience like no other, much more if you get to swim with them. Hmm… hopefully someday I’d be able to return to Donsol and do just that.
Of course you must order your choice of poison from Vitton’s Morena Bar. Just look for their bubbly bartender, Magdalena a.k.a. Madie. Trust me she is an expert and a certified diver herself. Whatever you want to know about whale sharks, she can tell you in full details. If you didn’t come with diving gears, there are some that can be rented. There are also a few stores within the resort that sell butanding souvenir items. I bought a mobile phone charm for only Php 40.
For more information about Vitton Beach Resort click on this link.
Few hours before our excruciating 12-hour land travel back to Manila, my former female boss and I went to one of the most famous tourist spots in Bicol, the Cagsaua Ruins. It will only take you a few minutes to get to the place from Legazpi City. There you will see the belfry, the only thing that was left of the Cagsaua church after the eruption of Mayon Volcano in 1814. A local shared to us that many people had been buried alive when they sought refuge inside the church.
The park is hauntingly beautiful with lush greenery, old stone walls, and an unobstructed view of Mayon Volcano. Entrance fee is very cheap, only Php 10. If you’ve forgotten to bring your camera there were some of the locals who would be willing to take and print your pictures for a minimum price. There are also numerous stalls in the area where you can buy souvenir items like t-shirts, bags, post cards, etc.
So there goes my Bicol experience, the home of the majestic Mayon Volcano, pili nuts, the very spicy but muy delicioso Bicol Express, and the whale sharks.
There is something alluring about places and things that were unmoved and unscathed by modernization. I see beauty in their silent awkwardness and blatant incongruousness in an era defined by five-star hotels, condominiums, skyways, and skyscrapers. I speak of the antiques, the old houses, and roads that survived the passing of time and remain to be standing to this day. There is such a place in Ilocos Sur, Philippines and it has always been one of my dream destinations. In December 2009, I gladly wrote it off my bucket list after finally earning the privilege to visit the historic city of Vigan.